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Five Minutes with, Sam Anderson Benson Partner, Digital Marketing at Clarity

By Alice Spraggon

Clarity is proud to offer fearless marketing and communications consultancy to the world’s most visionary companies. We’re able to do this so successfully because we hire sharp-minded specialists from around the world that provide best-of-the-best reputation, impact, and growth services to our clients.

Our blog series ‘Five Minutes With…’  shines a spotlight on Clarity’s experts around the world, diving into what our team provides, what we’re proud of, and a bit more about our teams as humans. Check out our past Q&As with Measurement & Analytics specialist Phil Wade, Public Affairs leader Nick Lansman, the founder of our Sydney HQ, Sefiani, Robyn Sefiani, and our VP of Paid Media, Chris Murphy.

In this edition, we speak with Sam Anderson Benson who heads up our performance marketing team globally. In this blog he’ll share what makes our performance marketing offering unique, discuss some key sector trends, and tell us a bit more about himself and his team.

What does Clarity’s performance marketing offering look like?

The strength of our offering is that it’s tailored to each and every client. But there are “non-negotiables” at its heart too: data-driven decision making, a singular focus on delivering tangible business impact, and best-in-class execution by specialists with a knowledge and passion for their channels and clients.

Our team has deep and varied experience, allowing us to amplify and complement the skill, passion, and dedication that our clients have within their organizations. And our processes mean we slot in as an extension of their team from day one. 

As long-term consultants, this also means we don’t just nod and agree with our clients all the time. We pride ourselves on having the courage to speak out and challenge our clients where we see opportunities—even if that means disrupting their status quo. It’s often at this point where real progress is made, and where we drive the strongest impact. 

With that said, we also have the humility to pivot if the data is showing that our initial plan needs to change. It's the end result that matters, not ownership of the idea. 

Finally, we’re always holding ourselves accountable to delivering the greatest ROI for our clients. We know that marketing budgets are a large proportion of any business expenditure, and we’re determined to always show brands they were right to invest in Clarity.

What are your predictions for the performance marketing sector this year?

How far, and how fast, Google integrates and iterates its AI proposition SGE (Search Generative Experience) will dominate and occupy all SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and Paid Search marketers this year, and for years to come. 

SGE has the potential to fundamentally change the search user journey, particularly by reducing the volume and placement of informational search results (e.g., ‘what is SEO?’ articles) that are important for brands’ mid- and upper- sales funnel. This will impact paid search too, as there will be less need to invest in targeting informational search terms.

Likewise, we could see knock-on consequences for the competition, cost, and business value of using transactional lower funnel keyphrases (e.g., “best SEO agency”), particularly if these terms aren’t as heavily impacted by SGE’s rollout. This affects SEO and paid search because it makes transactional search terms even more valuable, meaning they’ll be harder to achieve through organic, and more expensive to bid for with paid.

Many would expect that Google will have taken a measured approach: protecting its golden goose (Search Ads) and its foundational value proposition (relevant and high quality Search results). But it’s on the back foot, arguably for the first time ever, having comprehensively had its lunch eaten in the AI/Search space by Open AI and Bing. A defensive and increasingly desperate Google is something search marketers have never had to deal with.

The way to successfully navigate this is through transparency, vigilance and agility. 

We need to be transparent about what is unknown. This is potentially the largest paradigm shift in search for a generation, and we do not consider being honest with our clients about what we don’t know to be a weakness.

This is why vigilance, including using a truly data-driven approach, allows us to surface and identify performance trends quickly. If the future is hard to predict then you need to be able interpret what is happening, as it happens, as effectively as possible.

Then having the agility and humility to pivot, change course and, most importantly, successfully articulate why you are pivoting is how we can not just navigate this uncertainty but allow our clients to thrive from the opportunities that arise during significant disruption.

What performance marketing campaigns have you worked on recently that you’re really proud of? 

I'm particularly proud of the campaigns where we’ve been able to allow clients to outperform what was expected from their marketing budgets by using multiple digital channels in concert, allowing their campaigns to be more than the sum of their parts.

By using each channel to maximize each others’ strengths, and minimize weaknesses, we can deliver a coherent, consistent, and seamless user journey. This also means we can move beyond a world where the deepest pocket wins, allowing our clients to deliver results ahead of competitors that may have a significantly larger daily/weekly/monthly budget.

In Q1 of 2024 we have delivered results like this for brands including a multi-market Identity Governance provider, and a UK Employee Benefits platform.

What kind of strategies and tactics will make performance marketing campaigns pop in 2024? And how should these fit within a wider integrated marketing and communications approach?

The sexy, buzzy answer is AI. However AI is neither a silver bullet nor a panacea that will deliver multi-figure improvements simply by crowbarring it in without intention and thought. 

AI is simply another tool that, when used effectively, can supercharge a strategy. To make sure strategies are sound and  campaigns pop in an increasingly stratified, complicated, and competitive digital environment, it’s more important than ever to get the basics right. This includes:

  • Understanding and clearly defining your business objectives 
  • Identifying your highest priority audiences, and understanding where, when, and how to reach them
  • Delivering content that is relevant, and addresses that audiences’ needs, wants, and questions
  • Effectively and accurately measuring campaign costs and impact in as close to real time as possible to surface strengths, and challenges and issues to be resolved
  • Acting with intention, agility, and speed to maximize performance, minimize wastage, and capture opportunities  

Being dedicated to these fundamentals mean you can then be in a good place to add in the likes of highly creative ad assets, or apply AI-powered targeting, bidding or optimization.  

It’s much like building a title winning football (soccer) team—you need a solid defense before you can give the creative, goal scoring players the freedom to do their thing. 

Tell us about YOU! How did you get to where you are today?

Slightly unusually, I studied journalism at university because I wanted to be a broadcast sports journalist. When I left uni I transitioned into the world of digital marketing first as a Web Content Editor in Preston (Northern England), before moving to London in 2008, and working at a series of Omnicom Group agencies. Here I started to build my SEO and PPC skills; I loved the problem solving aspects of working in these channels, and got to cut my teeth working with big brands like Sainsbury’s and Peugeot. 

I then moved to iProspect, a specialist performance marketing agency, where I landed my dream role heading up the paid search team on the adidas account. I got to live my passion for sport in this job supporting adidas through a World Cup campaign, but then it got even better. In 2015, adidas gave me the opportunity to move in-house to their Western Europe HQ in Amsterdam. I ended up leading PPC, SEO, paid social and display teams across 18 markets in the region for both adidas and Reebok.

When I got engaged in 2018, my partner and I moved back to the UK and I got a job as a Global Marketing Manager, Paid Search at Skyscanner which was a very different role - I loved collaborating with global teams, especially during a period when Skyscanner was expanding. When 2020 hit and travel came to a standstill, I went back into the sneaker game as Head of Digital at Kick Game, a sneaker reseller. After working in service-specific teams at big agencies and brands for years, I was suddenly across everything digital and truly lost my ‘channel tunnel vision’.

Moving to Clarity in early 2022 to head up the Performance Marketing team was a natural next step after this, as our agency has been striving to build a model for integrated marketing and communications that thinks less about channels, and more about strategically achieving impact.

Tell us about your team - who are the team’s stars?

I lead a team of around twenty across our content marketing and studio, paid media, SEO, and organic search teams. I could write an essay about how fantastic each individual is, but in the interest of time I’ll call out the team leads: Marie Banks, VP of Content Strategy and Production, Chris Murphy, VP of Paid Media, Thomas Cox, SEO Strategy Lead, and Rob Barnes, SEO Technical Lead. They’re all talented, committed, passionate leaders in their own way, and the best thing is none of them ever accept the status quo, and are always challenging the business and their teams to be better and grow.

Clients love working with our team because they all have a genuine passion for performance marketing. You have to in order to be motivated to keep up with how fast it evolves, and how flexible you need to be to stay laser-focused on client success. 

Spanish football manager Pep Guardiola said ‘I don't want preconceptions. I want to learn as much as possible." This is something the team lives every day.’ There are so many variables outside our control in performance marketing that if you aren’t obsessive about watching the data and pivoting accordingly, even the best strategy will fail. 

If you’re keen to learn how Sam and the team can help your business achieve its goals with the power of performance marketing, reach out here.

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